Richard Miller: Ending poverty

The millennium development goals were a powerful statement of intent – but they will be missed
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The Independent Online

Some people are tempted to dismiss poor countries as beyond repair, and the problems of poverty eradication as insurmountable. Neither is true, but real change will take concerted effort by many different actors. Poor countries themselves are more than willing to take the lead, but in order to make a sustainable difference they need our support and action.

Such collaboration is key to ActionAid's approach. We work in local communities worldwide, listening to poor people and learning about their needs. We help them approach decision makers in their own countries, simultaneously lobbying powerful institutions such as the G8 and the EU to change the international laws and regulations that contribute to the uneven distribution of wealth.

This means that, on the ground, we are able to witness changes and breakthroughs as cycles of poverty are broken. Such as 40 million more children attending school around the world, thanks in part to the work of the Global Campaign for Education. Or almost 40 per cent more Kenyan citizens able to access lifesaving HIV drugs, after concerted lobbying convinced the government to make antiretroviral treatment free in all public hospitals.

Families supported by ActionAid have overcome emergency situations such as the Indian Ocean tsunami or the South Asia earthquake to become stronger and more resilient. Communities in Burundi and Sierra Leone have been able to rebuild peace and understanding in their villages after years of war. We are seeing women apply new confidence and skills in negotiating the best for themselves and their children.

On the UK front, just last week the government announced increased spending on aid, putting us largely on track to meet the commitment we made to Africa in the wake of Make Poverty History. This is both very welcome news, and a testament to the power of campaigning.

But enormous challenges remain. Seven years ago, the international community adopted a set of targets to halve poverty, cut child deaths and get all children into school by 2015. These Millennium Development Goals were a powerful statement of intent. But on current trends, they'll be missed – in the case of Africa, by a wide margin.

The obstacles to reaching these goals are often complex, and much of the change needs to happen in poor countries themselves. But there's also a lot more that countries like the UK can do to stop harming, and start helping, people in their bid to escape from poverty.

The activities of UK companies are a good example. In South Africa, women workers are being paid as little as 38p an hour picking fruit for the shelves of some UK supermarkets. That's why we're calling for our government to bring in new rules to make sure that UK companies live up to their obligations to the communities in which they operate.

The world continues to change. The internet means we can share information with our supporters almost immediately, and you can tell your government what you think just as quickly. It also means that we're able to link to other campaigners around the world in a much closer way than used to be possible. Fighting poverty is about building partnerships, between those of us in rich countries who care about the issues and those in poorer countries facing them in their daily lives.

That's why we want you to work with us. We need your money to continue the essential, long term development work we do in poor communities around the world. But we also need your time and your voice. By standing with ActionAid, you stand with millions of poor people in developing countries and you can help them overcome the obstacles that keep them in poverty.



The author is the executive director of ActionAid UK

Go to actionaid.org.uk for more information, and to make your voice heard

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